Should publicly owned marinas pay property tax?

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear oral arguments about whether publicly owned marinas should pay property taxes.

Treasure Coast Marina and Riverfront Developers, a former owner of Harbortown Marina at the foot of North Bridge, claims it is unconstitutional to exempt City Marina because it is a commercial enterprise not exclusively used for a municipal purpose.

State law exempts governments from paying property taxes on publicly owned properties.

“The tax-exempt status should only be reserved for things the private sector does not provide,” said attorney Jerry Stouck, who represents the private marinas in the case.

From 2011 to 2013, the St. Lucie County Property Appraiser’s Office exempted publicly owned marinas, such as City Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf Marina owned by Fort Pierce, from paying property taxes.

In 2011, the circuit court ruled in favor of Treasure Coast Marina but last May, the Fourth District Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling.

“We conclude that this case presents an issue of great public importance,” according to Fourth District Court of Appeal. “There is a large boating community in Florida, supported by a large number of public, as well as private, marinas. The ad valorem tax exemption presents a significant economic impact on these marinas.”

If Treasure Coast Marina wins the case, countless numbers of publicly owned marinas statewide would have to pay property taxes.

“If we exempt all marinas that would be a loss of property taxes and in turn a loss of revenue for the city,” Mayor Linda Hudson said. “We would have less money to pay for police, roads and parks. My job is to try and protect the taxpayer.”

The Florida League of Cities, a group whose goals are to serve the needs of Florida’s cities and promote local self-government, filed a friend of the court brief supporting the city.

“This could extend to any recreational functions and go beyond water transportation activities to include land and air transportation,” the Florida League of Cities wrote. “Thus, under the thesis of petitioners, city owned and operated facilities, such as airports, bus terminals, garages and parking lots could all be subject to property tax once private, for-profit entities began operating competitive facilities. Similarly, with municipal utilities of water, sewer, gas, electricity and garbage collection, all of which are at risk simply because these services may be available from private for-profit entities in today’s market.”

Treasure Coast Marina also names the St. Lucie County Property Appraiser’s Office and the state Department of Revenue in the lawsuit.

© 2017 the Treasure Coast Newspapers (Stuart, Fla.), Keona Gardner. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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